Long mountain races don’t attract many women. So I wasn’t surprised when I was the only lady registering for the noontime start of the Circuit of Brockagh race. The race promised 28 kilometres over three mountains with 1,372 metres of climb. Even the men were far and few between, put off by the apparent distances and navigational needs.
With five minutes to spare, a car speeds up to the start. A svelte and somewhat flustered Niamh O’Ceallaigh throws herself out of the passenger seat. “I’m so disorganised!” she mutters as she throws a map into her shorts and sprints past me towards registration.
It’s nice to have someone to pit yourself against. At the Glacial Lakes event two weeks ago, I had no other solo ladies to race me. But this time Niamh seemed happy enough to volunteer her services. I knew she had won the Wicklow Way Trail a few weeks before hand. And her ever decreasing size made her look like she might float up a mountain or two.
At midday, Gareth Little waved us off, director for the day’s race. Zoran, John and Richard set the pace as we climbed the forest road heading towards St. Kevin’s Way. I tried to keep in step behind them, wanting to have a fast start. But my haste for speed meant I spent less time thinking about the direction I was going in. No sooner had we reached St. Kevin’s path than the orienteers in our midst cut the corner through the forest and field and plopped out in front of us. Niamh was one of those navigators.
Niamh failed to slow as we hit the Wicklow Way and I struggled to keep up with her. We were less than 20 minutes into the 3 hour plus race, and already we were in mid-battle. Finally I caught her as we neared Paddock Hill. There I decided to be chased rather than to chase, and slowly edged on past her. Though Niamh definitely had an extra gear on the forest roads compared to when I used to race against her 4 years ago, I had no idea what she was like these days on open mountain.
On up Scarr, I settled into a rhythm and instead kept Dermot Murphy in my sights. The weather had taken a turn for the best after Saturday’s rain, and Tonlagee and Camaderry were clearly visible. The terrain was a little wet in places, but generally pretty dry.
Off Scarr, I opted for a sheep track to avoid any climb, then cut across to a runner who was descending to Glenmacnass waterfall via the main path. Hitting the road, I grabbed some water from the marshalls, then turned to see, much to my surprise, Niamh a mere few metres behind me. Obviously open mountain was no longer an issue for Niamh, after years of seeing her run with constricting ankle supports.
The river crossing is where she defiantly left me in her tracks. Before I knew it, she was climbing Tonlagee and I was falling further behind. I just put my head down and kept going, wondering if her descending would be up to speed.
By the time I hit Tonlagee summit, Niamh was nowhere to be found. So I threw myself down the hill, hoping to make up some ground. Just as I neared Wicklow Gap carpark, I could see her climbing up the reservoir service road. Her descending prowess had obviously also improved in the intervening years.
The service road was my route choice too, so I set off after her in hot pursuit. Every now again and I would catch glimpses of Niamh on the horizon up and around Camaderry. She forced me to crank up an extra gear, making me pass a few guys who had no idea what was up with the women that day.
In the end, I failed to catch Niamh. But what I race we had. Niamh finished in 5th position overall in 109% of the men’s winning time. I was 1 minute 40 seconds behind and in 6th position, clocking in at 110%. A new Queen of the Mountains is born.
Race results can be found here.
And a neat little video of the race and terrain by James Cahill can be found below.